The Day I T-Boned the Mercedes of the President of Pine Valley

Ernie Ransome, No. 18 tee, Pine Valley Golf Club.

Ernie Ransome, eighteenth hole, Pine Valley Golf Club.

Ernie Ransome, shown above, was the president of Pine Valley Golf Club from 1977 until 1988, and Pine Valley, as you surely know, is one of the two or three best golf courses in the world. Ransome died this year, and Jerry Tarde, the editor-in-chief of Golf Digest, wrote an essay in which he described Ransome, affectionately, as the club’s “all-powerful dictator.” He recalled that Ransome “presided over annual meetings that took no more than six minutes as, for example, the club treasurer would report, ‘I have not seen the financials, but I’m told income exceeds expenditures.’ At which point, Ransome would interrupt, ‘All in favor of the budget submitted by the treasurer, say, ‘Aye.’ All opposed, say, ‘I resign.'” Clifford Roberts, the legendarily gruff co-founder of Augusta National, would have approved. When Roberts, at a meeting of the club’s governors, asked Charles Yates, the board’s secretary, whether he had the minutes, Yates asked, “Do you mean last year’s, this year’s, or next year’s?”.

Clifford Roberts, the archetype of the golf-club benevolent dictator.

Clifford Roberts, the original golf-club benevolent dictator.

I’ve been lucky, over the years, to play quite a few rounds at Pine Valley. One day in 2001, while I was visiting as the guest of a man who, at the time, was also a member of my nine-hole home club, I set out in my car for the club’s driving range, to hit a few balls before our group teed off. At the little intersection nearest the clubhouse, I nosed out a few feet past the stop sign and, when I did, crashed into a Mercedes, which was coming down the hill from the right. Luckily, I recognized the driver as Ransome, and apologized profusely, even though I wasn’t certain the crash had been my fault. A maintenance cart with a trailer attached to it was parked across the intersection, and Ransome, in order to avoid it, had been driving on the wrong side of the road. He had also been driving quite fast. At any rate, he said that he was late for a doctor’s appointment, and asked me to let Lenny Ward, the club’s caddie master, know what had happened. I did, and when I met with Ransome that afternoon I told him to simply send me the repair bill. And that’s what he did.

Ransome Letter

The bodywork had been done at a dealership in Delaware owned by Buddy Marucci, a Pine Valley member and Tiger Woods’s opponent in the extraordinary final match of the 1995 U.S. Amateur.

marucci bill

I happily paid the bill, and I didn’t make an insurance claim, because I didn’t want an adjuster to take a position that might upset Ransome and, as a consequence, make life unpleasant for the member who had been my host. I decided to think of the $2,889.20 as a retroactive surcharge for all the rounds I had played at Pine Valley over the years, and when I divided it by that number it didn’t seem onerous.

Owen letter

Here’s another Ransome story from Jerry Tarde’s tribute:

One day as Ransome was approaching his ball on 11, a golfer hit a particularly bad drive off 16 and, reacting viscerally, winged his club into the sandy waste in front of the tee. Ransome, with hands on hips, did what might be described as a slow burn in the fairway, which caught the eye of the angry golfer still standing on the tee. “We. . .don’t. . .throw. . .clubs. . .at Pine Valley,” Ransome finally boomed.

“I’m the member in this group,” yelled back the angry golfer. “Who the [expletive] are you?!”

To which, Ransome immediately replied: “Not anymore you aren’t.” Then, to the caddies: “Boys, take the bags in.”

You see, that’s what I wanted to avoid.

Ransome played lacrosse at Princeton. That's him in the center in 1946.

Ransome played lacrosse at Princeton. That’s him, in the center, in 1946.